Esperanza Cordero, the young protagonist of The House on Mango Street, recounts her experiences with the trials and tribulations of growing up Mexican American, and of growing up as a young woman in Chicago.
I read the 25th anniversary edition of this book, which comes with an introduction by the author. Cisneros, in the introduction, describes the typical aspirations, doubts, and dreams of a young female author just starting out. She wants to write full-time, to be able to afford her own apartment with a writing space. She wants a place of her own in the world, and she wants the work she does to have meaning. She struggles with imposter syndrome, especially in the presence of entitled white male authors who ooze self-assured confidence.
Much like Cisneros’s introduction, her novel The House on Mango Street seems to be largely constructed of typical struggles and prejudices around the Mexican-American experience. I wanted to like this book. The vignette structure was intriguing, and Esperanza was a likable character, but there was nothing in this short book that was new to me in terms of plot or information. Esperanza deals with growing up as a woman and the loss of innocence that comes with it. She and a few other girls put on heels and strut around the neighborhood for a while, experiencing cat calls and leering from men for the first time. In another section, Esperanza struggles with saving a friend who goes off alone with several boys. Esperanza tells the girl’s mother and the mother is not phased, refusing to even investigate.
Many of the other short chapters are character sketches of people who live around Esperanza, such as the Earl of Tennessee and Meme Ortiz. I can see how this book made waves a quarter of a century ago, but reading it for the first time in 2021, the book does pale a little in comparison to other literature on growing up as a first or second generation child of immigrants that has been published since 1984.
Overall, my rating is a 2.5. The book wasn’t bad by any means, but it also wasn’t exceptional. I doubt I will remember many details from the book a few years from now.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Vintage, April 3, 2009 (first edition 1984), 110 pages
Category: literary fiction, autobiographical fiction